Trump claims he 'up-played' crisis, vaccine just weeks away
US President still maintains that coronavirus will go away by itself, through 'herd mentality'
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month - an acceleration of even his own optimistic prediction - but added that the pandemic could go away by itself.
"We're very close to having a vaccine," he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC News.
"We're within weeks of getting it, you know - could be three weeks, four weeks," he said.
Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Mr Trump had said a vaccine could come in "four weeks, it could be eight weeks".
Democrats have expressed concern that Mr Trump is putting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help turn around his uphill bid for re-election against challenger Joe Biden on Nov 3.
Experts including top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely towards the end of the year.
Mr Trump was asked why he had downplayed the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US.
Mr Trump said: "I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action."
But he himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book Rage - published on Tuesday - that he had deliberately decided to "play it down" to avoid alarming Americans.
Returning to one of his most controversial views on the virus, which has ravaged the economy and which government scientists say will remain a danger for some time, Mr Trump insisted that "it is going to disappear".
"It would go away without the vaccine but it's going to go away a lot faster with it," he said.
Challenged about how the virus would go away by itself, he said "you'll develop like a herd mentality", apparently meaning the concept of herd immunity, when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.
"It's going to be herd developed and that's going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we're rounding the corner," he said.
The President, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said "a lot of people don't want to wear masks and people don't think masks are good".
Asked what people he meant, Mr Trump replied: "Waiters."
"They come over and they serve you and they have a mask. I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they're playing with the mask. I'm not blaming them. I'm just saying what happens.
"They're playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they're touching it, and then they're touching the plate, and that can't be good."
Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Mr Trump's handling of the health crisis.
The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll on Tuesday found that 52 per cent of adults do not trust his statements about an upcoming coronavirus vaccine, compared with 26 per cent who do. - AFP